There’s no question feedback is essential when developing or improving a product. Enter the user interview. Sure, it’s great to talk to actual users and get their insights. However, getting your interviewees to open up and give more than just standard “yes” or “no” responses requires some effort. Most people are either distracted by thoughts of what they have on their agenda for the day or just looking to get it over with it. The key to getting feedback that’s more constructive and meaningful is to avoid giving your interviewees the feeling like they’re at a doctor’s office. Make the interview experience less “clinical” and structured by considering a different take on conducting user interviews.
1. Make Your Interviewees Feel Welcome
Don’t just usher your interviewees into a waiting area, especially if you want to avoid the comparisons to the doctor’s office experience. Instead, warmly greet the person. Make small talk (How’s your morning going?, How was your drive?) to put them at ease right away. Offer them a cup of coffee or a light snack. And let them know up front how long they can expect to be there. Your initial introduction is all about setting the tone, encouraging relaxation, and easing any initial apprehensions.
2. Ask ‘Warm-Up Questions’ to Get Things Started
Further ease any apprehension your interviewees may have by starting with some warm-up questions. These are easy to answer questions designed to help somebody relax before you get into what you want to know about your product or brand. Realize your interviewees may be nervous or concerned that your questions would be difficult to answer. So, while trivial, these such questions do serve a purpose. Here are a few examples of warm-up questions you might ask at the start of an interview:
• Where do you live?
• What do you do for a living?
• What devices do you typically use?
• What kind of apps do you use most often?
Notice that certain warm-up questions can still provide some useful information. If you decide to use your warm-up questions to get some background info, don’t get product specific yet. What you can do, however, is start with very general warm-up questions and move towards ones that set the person up to answer more detailed questions later.
3. Discover Some of Their Passions and Interests
After you go through some warm-up questions to calm nerves and encourage relaxation, do some exploring to identify particular interests. This is the point where you’re establishing a rapport with the person you’re interviewing. You’re not covering your main topics yet. You’re trying to create a less formal connection with your interviewees. Do a little fishing to find out what they’re passionate or enthusiastic about. You might ask things like:
• What’s your favorite TV show?
• What kind of music do you like?
• Where did you grow up?
• What are some of your hobbies?
What you can do with the responses is follow up with a few related issues that naturally come to mind to get a mini-conversation going. This shows you’re interested in what they are saying. If you’re sitting there checking off questions and not giving much of a response back, you’ll automatically have some distance with your interviewee — which isn’t what you want.
4. Encourage Non-Formal Language and Real Emotions
You’ll know your interviewee is comfortable if they blurt out a few swear words here and there or honestly get angry about something they didn’t like. You don’t necessarily have to get all HBO with your interview, but make it clear it’s okay to be less formal. For instance, ask them what they said when they had to call their Internet provider for the umpteenth time about slow speeds or service interruptions. Ask them what was going through their mind when they were ready to purchase with an app and got cut off before it went through. If they know they don’t have to mind their Ps and Qs and be on their best behavior during the interview, you’re more likely to get raw, honest feedback.
5. Listen and Create a Flow with Questions
Okay, now is the point where you’re asking the questions you have prepared. But don’t slip into researcher mode by asking question after question like you’re checking off a list. Instead, try to have a general idea of what topics you want to cover before you get started. This way you won’t be looking down at a list as you conduct the interview.
Create a natural flow with your topics by actually listening to what’s coming out of their mouth. Realistically, there will probably be some awkward jumps between topics. Still, if you listen and engage your interviewees, you should be able to maintain a natural flow about 80 percent of the time. You don’t want to talk too much or get sidetracked. Your purpose is to guide them through the conversation so you can get useful insights and info. You can still ask a few natural follow-up questions and even share a smile or laugh here and there.
6. Follow Unexpected Paths and Be Open to Off-Topic Discussions
What’s the point of getting somebody relaxed if you’re going to shut them down if they start veering off topic? Instead, think of your questions or topics as more of a guide, not a to-do list. If your interviewee is inspired to talk about related topics, continue to listen and see where they’re going with them. If they start to veer too far off topic, gently nudge them back on topic or move onto the next topic. Keep in mind that some of the off-topic discussions you have during your interviews may lead to:
• Ideas for topics to cover in your next set of interviews or next round of research
• The discovery of issues of concern to your users you didn’t consider during your initial research
• Knowledge of related pain points or problems you may have overlooked
In-person interviews should be more human and less technical. There’s a difference between how you solicit feedback online and the same experience one-on-one. Present yourself as a curious friend looking for input, and you should end up with some valuable, honest insights.